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Sixers Mailbag Volume 3 - Bad Habits, Rookie Expectations, Finances, And More

In volume 3 of LibertyBallers Sixers Mailbag, we talk about K.J. McDaniels contract, about expectations for Jerami Grant, developing habits in young players, Jason Richardson's continued presence, and more.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back for the third edition of LibertyBallers' Sixers mailbag. If you missed any of the previous two, feel free to check them out:

With the last edition having run later than scheduled, along with a little bit of a lull in the Sixers schedule, there's only been one game played since then, a 120-88 blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors, the first real disaster of the young season. Still, there's plenty to talk about with your 0-7 Philadelphia 76ers!

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Q: Can you discuss previous examples of young players developing "bad habits" as a result of playing with bad players?

Excellent question. To be honest, one doesn't necessarily come to mind, although I'm sure I'm overlooking somebody obvious. One example of a local player could perhaps be Andre Iguodala, as he became heavily reliant on long, pull-up 2 point jumpers when he was asked to do more for the Sixers offense than he was realistically capable of providing, but that largely went away when he went to more talented Denver and Golden State teams. Field goals between 16' and the three point line made up 30.8% and 30.7% of his field goal attempts during his final 2 seasons here, but only 17.1% during his season at Denver and 12.9% in his only full season at Golden State so far.

I've always thought that the players individual mental makeup and the influences around him were much bigger determining factors in the formation of a players habits, and really in the culture of a team. Does a rookie come into a situation where a veteran star (or quasi-star), who commands the rookies respect, but has bad habits himself, learn bad habits? Does he come in to a team with a disinterested (or over-matched) coach, who isn't paying attention to details, as is often the case for high draft picks? Or does the player simply not have the attention to detail to develop truly great habits, a mental aspect of the game that you missed when scouting?

Those, to me, are far greater influences on a players future habits, and a teams future culture, than the talent surrounding him during the first year or two of his career.

Now, where I think there is a stronger case to be made with regards to having actual NBA talent level surrounding guys like Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel is in terms of evaluation. Would Michael Carter-Williams be more efficient scoring in the lane if he had great catch and shoot threats stationed on the perimeter? Could he cut back on his turnovers if he had more capable offensive players around him? Would Nerlens be able to flash a more effective face-up game if he had Ryan Anderson next to him?

Perhaps. That's the strongest argument against the Sixers current roster strategy, in my opinion, as the evaluation of these two players is incredibly important in the grand scheme of things.

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Q: What kind of contract do you see KJ McDaniels getting next year? Should the Sixers overpay to keep him?

Luckily, the CBA greatly limits what teams can offer KJ, in what has commonly been referred to as the "Arenas provision", because Gilbert Arenas' departure from Golden State was one of the instances that pointed out the problem that existed.

Basically, this limits the first year salary of what a team can offer KJ to the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level exception, which for 2015-16 would be $5.464 million. The second year can then receive a 4.5% raise over the first year, bringing the second years salary to a maximum of $5.709 million.

However, the third and 4th years can then go back to what the maximum would be if it weren't limited by the Arenas provision. On a player with 0-6 years of experience, this would start to get pricey, in the $15+ million range.

So, in theory, a team could offer McDaniels a contract of 4 years at $40+ million. But there are more "buts". There always are.

In order to do this, a team would have to have the cap space to fit the annual average salary of the contract under the cap for the first year. So a team would need $10 million in cap space to offer K.J. a 4 year, $40 million contract, even if the first year he would only get paid $5.464 million. This means a team with just the Mid-Level cannot work a contract in such a way. This limits K.J.'s leverage substantially, which is then compounded by the facts that K.J. will be a restricted free agent and the Sixers will have more than enough cap space to match any offer, if they so desire.

So the Sixers should be able to get K.J. on a relatively good deal, based on what kind of a player he could become. But is a 2 year deal at $9-$10 million (total) out of the question, assuming he continues to show that he can hit the three point jumper with consistency and defend at a high level? Probably not. I could see somebody using a good portion of their Mid-Level on him in free agency this summer, assuming what we've seen so far isn't a mirage.

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Q: Could the Sixers take Mudiay or Oubre in the draft if they get a top 5 pick?

They could. I have my questions on Mudiay, and I haven't had a chance to get my hands on any of his tape with Guangdong yet, so I don't really want to speculate too much. But he's shooting the ball well from deep so far, which was a big question mark in his game heading into the season. That would help his stock out quite a bit.

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Q: How does Grant and KJ fit in with the Sixers futures plans? Are they just bench pieces?


Q: What's your expectations on Noel, MCW, KJ and Grant for this season?

Combining these two questions, since they're very similar.

My expectations for KJ for this season are about what we've seen: some missed defensive assignments, great defensive effort, and incredible defensive tools that can make up for missed assignments as he learns. ~9 points, 3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1 steal in 25 minutes while shooting ~35% seems reasonable. I think expecting him to continue to hit from 40%+ from deep is probably a bit unrealistic.

Then again, he could benefit greatly by Michael Carter-Williams return, end up starting relatively soon, play 35 minutes per night, have an incredibly quick learning curve, and blow these expectations completely out of the water.

For Grant, I don't have much in the way of expectations. Slow start, with inconsistent minutes. In the last third of the season, perhaps he starts to put his physical tools together. I wasn't a huge fan of Grant's at draft time, and with the amount of time he's missed, I'm not sure I expect that my expectations will be exceeded.

Long term, again, I don't have much of an expectation for Grant. I think he's ultimately going to need to develop the perimeter skills to play more of a 3, because I don't think he can physically handle the 4, nor do I think he's a good enough rebounder for that. And I think, skill wise, he's a long way away from being an NBA 3.

For K.J., I almost expect him to become a future starter for this team for a long time. His defensive tools, defensive effort, and ability to shoot are 3 incredible attributes for a young player to have, especially when building around a post presence like Embiid. He should be great to watch, and hopefully in a Sixers uniform for a long time.

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Q: Who do you think will be trade bait on this Sixers roster by the time the deadline comes?

Cap space.  I think the Sixers biggest trade bait will remain cap space. I don't think they're going to really dangle any of their young pieces (and those are the only pieces that have value) during the trade deadline much at all, and they don't have the veterans to trade like last year. But I do expect them to be active, both to use their cap space to acquire more assets (RE: picks) and also because they may want to hit that salary cap floor.

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Ryan [email]

Q: It seems to me in this young season that the Sixers are doing 2 things better than they did last year at this point: 1) getting good looks from the corner 3 spot and 2)finishing at the rim.  Do you have any statistics to back this?

It's amazing what stats there are to back things up nowadays.

Much is being made of the role all-encompassing stats are taking in the basketball landscape, with the evolution of such stats going from pretty basic PER calculations, to RPM based calculations, to WARP projection models, and so on. And there's good progress being made in these areas.

But the real gem of the current progress in statistics is coming from SportVU, where their cameras that plot the movements and locations of every player many times per second gives us the chance to quantify assumptions that otherwise wouldn't show up in a box score. Want to know how great a player is at getting a rebound when other contestants are around him? We now don't have to just go by gut anymore, we can also see how the stats support that argument.

(Note: These two examples in the question could have been found prior to SportVU with shot charts. I just wanted to take the opportunity to point out how much I love SportVU. Anyway, my rant is done. Here are the stats).

Corner 3 At Rim
Year FG% FGA/G % of FGA FG% FGA/G % of FGA
2013-14 32.9% 4.48 5.1% 54.9% 38.3 43.9%
2014-15 29.2% 3.42 4.2%
52.3% 37.4 45.9%

So, they're taking less overall field goal attempts, mostly due to a slightly slower pace (97.6 vs 99.2), with a slightly higher free throw rate (29.2% vs 26.8%). Because of this, despite having less field goal attempts per game at the rim, they're actually having a slightly higher percentage of their field goal attempts at the rim than last year. Unfortunately, they're taking less of their field goal attempts from the corner, regardless of whether you're looking at field goals per game or percentage of field goal attempts, and their efficiency is (slightly) down on both from last year.

Much of this can likely be explained by Wroten playing instead of MCW to start the season. He's going to get to the line more, decreasing overall field goal attempts, and isn't as adept of a passer finding the open man in the corner. It will be interesting how this changes as the year goes on.

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Jim [email]

Q: What happened to the Sixers Beat podcast with you and Rich Hoffman? Can we expect any new episodes in the near future? Or will I be limited to The Rights to Ricky Sanchez?

We will most definitely be doing more Sixers Beat podcasts. Both of our schedules have been quite hectic here to start the season, but it's absolutely in the plans to do more, and you should hopefully see (well, hear) one soon.

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Howard [email]

Q: From your research on financial aspects, insurance, trade value, etc.,  what is your speculation as to why the Sixers decided to keep Jason Richardson on the roster?

Oh man. This is a wonderful question. And one that you'll never get a real answer to.

(Note: I saved this for last, because it's long. If you don't care about the financial implications of Richardson's injury, or find yourself bored halfway through, there are no more questions after this. Just scroll on down to the comments section).

There are 3 logical answers:

  • They think that there is a possibility, however remote that possibility is, that they'll make moves to get over the salary cap by the trade deadline, at which point having Richardson's $6.6 million expiring contract could become a piece used in a trade.
  • They think he can provide a mentor-ship role for some of the other young players on the roster, particularly wings.
  • Financial reasons. Details below.

The first two are pretty straightforward. While the chances of reaching the cap is small, Sam Hinkie is the type of GM who would keep a trade asset on the 1% chance that he could use that asset in February.

Also, while I think it's imperative that young players get playing time to develop, I do think veterans, and the experience they carry with them, can add some value. Human beings can, at times, tune authority figures out, even if they're not doing so intentionally. Having a different voice, a peer who can preach the message the coaching staff is trying to send, while mixing in his own experiences, can definitely have value. And Jason Richardson is still occasionally with the team at practice, although I'm not sure exactly how much he interacts with younger guys as we're limited in what we're allowed to see.

But I also think Sam Hinkie would like to have that roster spot to evaluate and develop more players. Not only for playing time with the big club, but also to be able to send a player down to Delaware while still retaining his rights, something that is tough to do while 2 players who are unlikely to play for the team continue to use up roster spots.

Is that 1% chance they use all the cap space, or J-Rich's experience, worth sacrificing that roster spot? I'm not so sure.

The financial aspect of it could be the ultimate reason, though, and one I touched on during the offseason.

The Sixers have financial incentive to reach the salary cap floor as late in the season (aka trade deadline) as they can. Whether you reach the salary cap floor is based off of team salary, which, in a simplified version, is the sum of the full season salary of the players on the roster at the end of the season. If you're interested in the CBA and how it dictates this, I took a look at that as well.

This is something that was changed in the latest iteration of the CBA, which came out in 2011. Before that, team payroll, not team salary, was used when determining whether a team reached the salary floor. This change to the CBA presented a bit of a loophole for a team like the Sixers.

The Sixers currently sit at ~$38 million in salary commitments for this season. The salary floor is $56.759 million. If they don't add any players, they'd have to pay out ~$18 million as a penalty, which would essentially become a bonus to players on the roster, to reach the floor. In the end, they'd end up paying that $56.759 million in salaries.

However, if they wait until the deadline to acquire $18 million of player contracts, they'd only have to pay those players for the remaining roughly one third of their salary, yet their total team salary would get credited for the full season. So rather than paying $18 million to their players as a penalty, they could pay $6 million in acquisitions, saving ownership $12 million over the other two scenarios (reaching $56.7 million in salary at the beginning of the season or paying an $18 million penalty to players if they do not add additional salary).

It makes little sense, but the team can save a ton of money if they add a ton of salary to their roster at the deadline.

Jason Richardson's contract is a potential golden goose in terms of saving money as well.

NBA teams are allowed to submit for certain players contracts to be insured, including players from the pool of their 5 most expensive contracts in terms of total salary (all remaining years) and 5 most expensive contracts for this individual season. The insurance company can then exclude up to 14 players league-wide from being insured. Furthermore, if a player was ever approved for insurance at any point of their current contract, they cannot be excluded.

Due to this last point, and the fact that Richardson's $6.6 million is relatively small, and that Richardson was reportedly trying to get back on the court before his latest setback (a stress fracture in his other foot, which was unrelated to the original injury) it's likely the insurance company would have saved its limited exclusions for a more damaging contract, if Richardson's contract was even capable of being excluded in the first place.

If a contract is insured, the insurance company begins paying 80% of the players remaining base salary AFTER a 41 game waiting period. The games before the waiting period finish are not eligible for reimbursement. Meaning if Richardson is out games 1-41, then for games 42-82 the insurance company would pay 80% of the salary.

However, there's a big catch: that 41 game waiting period can span multiple seasons. Being that Jason Richardson hasn't played a game since January 2013, that 41 game period came and went a long time ago.

Big catch #2? If a team cuts a player, they lose their rights to collect insurance payouts on the contract.

So, and again this is assuming Richardson's contract is insured, Jason Richardson's contract gets them $6.6 million closer to the salary cap floor, but they only have to pay ~$1.32 million of that. People frequently look at these injured players as a sunk cost, but they're not: cutting Jason Richardson would cost the owners ~$5.28 million due to them no longer receiving reimbursement from the insurance company.

There is one final catch: Richardson's new injury, a stress fracture in his right foot. This is a different injury than the left knee injury that was operated on back in 2013. It's not entirely sure how that injury impacts Richardson's 41 game waiting period. While it may have been unlikely Richardson would get himself back in the physical condition required to compete at an NBA level, the presence of the new injury that is most definitely keeping him sidelined could cause the insurance company to restart that 41 game clock.

What does this mean? It could actually make it more likely that the team cuts Richardson before his contract expires. The Sixers would now have to pay half the season (~$3.3 million) in full, then would have to pay $660k of the remaining $3.3 million, totaling a commitment of $3.96 million on their end. There's still a financial benefit to keeping Richardson on the roster until the end of the season (saving ~$2.64 million on payouts from the insurance company), but Sam Hinkie could potentially have an easier time convincing management to swallow a $2.64 million loss for an extra roster spot than he would if they had to swallow $5.28 million. The sunk cost expanding could actually help the Sixers, or at least help Sam Hinkie in his desire to gain an additional usable roster spot.

All that being said, I don't think the Sixers are retaining cap space solely, or even primarily, as a ploy to make money. I think if Sam Hinkie gets a trade offered to him today that makes sense, but adds $15 million in salary, management will green light it rather than wait until late February to reach the floor. But, all things being equal, is there a chance that Hinkie might have to make some concessions to help ownership stomach a couple of seasons with minimal fan interest? He might, and having Richardson cost the team a roster spot might be one of those concessions.

(Note: the team can, at times, apply for a hardship exception, which would stretch the roster limit to 16 on a temporary basis, assuming 4 players have missed at least 3 consecutive games and will continue to miss games. However, this is temporary, so using this as a means to essentially use Richardson's roster spot for the full time development and evaluation of a young player isn't feasible).

I have reached out to multiple Sixers representatives to get clarification on Richardson's contract and insurance status, but have not heard back. As always, I will report if I do get any additional clarification.

That will wrap it up. Thanks to everybody who submitted questions, and my apologies if I didn't answer yours. If you want to submit a question for next week, either hit me up on twitter (include #sixersmailbag in the tweet) or send me an email.

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